COVERAGE GUIDE FOR HEPATITIS C TESTING There are currently an estimated 3.9 million people living with Hepatitis C (HCV) infection in the United States. Recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data demonstrates deaths from HCV have increased from 11,051 in 2003 to 19,629 in 2015—making HCV the number one infectious disease killer. However, only half of people living with HCV are aware of their infection. This highlights the need for increased testing, and linking those who are infected with HCV to treatment to be cured. HCV is a liver disease that can range in severity from mild to lifelong and life threatening. For those with chronic infection, HCV can result in serious health problems, such as cirrhosis of the liver or even death. According to CDC, between 75% and 85% of acute HCV infections develop into chronic infections. At present, HCV is a leading cause of liver cancer, and the leading indication for liver transplantation in the U.S. HCV infection is also escalating among young persons who inject drugs, and is especially prevalent among “baby boomers” born between 1945 and 1965. Baby boomers are six times more likely to be infected than other age cohorts. Because it is often difficult to detect HCV from clinical presentation, HCV is often dubbed a “silent” epidemic with many individuals living for decades, before experiencing any indication of infection. HCV testing is critical to identifying positive individuals and linking them to care. People living with HIV are at greater risk for acquiring HCV. About one quarter of those infected with HIV are also HCV infected. As a result of their coinfection they experience more rapid disease progression and more severe liver damage. With the availability of treatments that can cure HCV in as little as two or three months, coupled with increased coverage options under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), now is the time to increase HCV screening. In 2013, about one third of those with HCV infection were estimated to be uninsured. Now, thanks to recommendations made by the CDC and the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF) in support of HCV testing and the ACA, there is greater access to insurance coverage and reimbursable HCV screening.
New Coverage Opportunities and the USPSTF • • • •
Under the ACA, millions have gained access to health coverage through Medicaid expansion, qualified health plans, and insurance reforms. Access to free or low-cost preventive services is included in this expansion. USPSTF, an independent government-supported body, reviews and grades preventive services. Medicare, Medicaid, and most private insurance plans are either required or incentivized to cover “A” and “B” graded services. In June 2013, the USPSTF issued a grade “B” recommendation for HCV screening, which includes a one-time recommended screening for “baby-boomers”, those born between 1945 and 1965, as well as periodic screening for HCV among “high risk” individuals. The “B” grade acknowledges the benefits of screening the “baby-boomer” population, which represents more than 75% of HCV cases in the United States, along with those who are at “high risk”, and marks a critical step forward in the fight to end the epidemic. It is now essential that medical providers implement the USPSTF recommendation and offer HCV testing to all baby boomer and high-risk patients. It is also important for clinics and health departments that provide HCV screening to bill for these services, as reimbursement reduces one barrier to HCV screening. The National Academies’ National Strategy for the Elimination of Hepatitis B and C report released in March 2017 determined that identifying people infected with HCV is crucial to eliminating the disease, and recommended increased testing, especially in areas with a high expected disease prevalence.
How Each Payer Covers Preventive Services and HCV Screening • •
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Private Insurance The ACA requires most private insura